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Case for Umshini Wami!

I am happy that Jacob Zuma sang Umshini Wami at his inaugural speech as ANC president. I hope that he will do so again when he gives his first official address to his party’s followers on the occasion of the January 8 statement.

We cannot blame the selective amnesia that prevails in this country — one that would want us to believe that Umshini Wami is Zuma’s song.

To do this associate the song exclusively with Jacob Zuma is plainly mischievous.

I know that I am not the only person who remembers that this is a song that was sung regularly by members of the three liberation organisations — the ANC, the PAC and the Black Consciousness Movement in the 1980s (maybe even before). It was never Zuma’s song.

How it came to have phallic connotations is in the ear of those who wish to dictate to us what we should remember about the cultural aspects of the liberation struggle.

Hate Msholozi if you should and disbelieve him when he says he had consensual sex with the woman who cried rape. But while doing that, don’t create the false impression that the song was composed on the steps of the Johannesburg High Court by a randy and dirty old man.

If Zuma had heeded the so-called advice of those opposed to the singing of the song, then we would have been on a slippery slope of having to accept having to be “taught” which aspects of our liberation movement’s defining characters that found expression in arts (protest theatre, music and dance) are “acceptable” or legitimate.

We must retain the right to sing about Botha having to release Mandela not because we don’t know that Mandela has been released and Botha is dead, but because they formed part of our collective political consciousness.

We must sing these songs so that our children and their children should know that there was a time in our lives where the only possibility of redemption from apartheid was through the barrel of a gun and not because we are indifferent to violence.

There are struggle songs that speak to helplessness (such as Senzeni na?) but Umshini Wami was a call for a people to take their future into their own hands. It was thus a positive song.

We need more of us to get our machine guns to fight today’s evils. We need machine guns to fight the rampant criminals who reign with impunity. We need machine guns to fight poverty, cronyism and corruption.

So, thank you, Msholozi. We have for too long behaved as though this liberation happened to us when we were busy with other things, rather than because some like you and many others who did not live long enough to see April 27 were prepared to carry that machine gun that some of us today think themselves too polished and too embarrassed to acknowledge.